News & Views item - February 2010



UK Government's Principles for Independent Scientific Advice Further Scrutinised. (February 25, 2010)

Paul Drayson, UK Minister for Science.

NatureNews reports that appearing before a parliamentary committee yesterday, UK "science minister Paul Drayson said that two of the most controversial issues in the government's proposed principles will be changed. The principles and the hearing were established in the wake of widespread outrage over the treatment of drugs advisor David Nutt, who was sacked after incurring the displeasure of the home secretary after publicity given to his academic work".


Firstly, reference to 'academic freedom' of advisors is likely to be inserted into the document, and secondly, the highly controversial reference to science advisors and ministers working to "reach a shared position" would be removed. Dr Drayson told the committee: "We do not expect to see that phrase remain in the principles," while the UK government's chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, said bluntly: "I don't think that is appropriately drafted; I don't think a shared position is remotely appropriate in this context."


After consultation on Dr Drayson's principles closed earlier this month, Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, told NatureNews: "While the Royal Society did not submit a response to the specific consultation, we have made our views on this matter clear to government. We have consulted with others and understand that the range of opinions within the scientific community on this matter has been communicated to government. We attach special importance to two points: that advisors should not be expected to bend their position to fit with government views, and that they must retain academic freedom."


What still requires clarification is "whether the principles will be incorporated into the official code of conduct of government ministers, or whether they will be more an advisory set of rules that can be ignored if they become awkward".